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Heath Ledger Filmography: 1999-2003

Two Hands (1999)
Heath’s first proper movie after various bits and pieces, mainly on Australian television. Extremely black Australian comedy-drama, set in Sydney’s notorious King’s Cross district. Heath does a fine job playing bouncer and petty criminal Jimmy, who gets in way above his head with the big boys and has to take desperate measures to save his own skin. Co-star Bryan Brown is brilliant as downmarket Sydney crime boss Pando.

Heath Ledger interview on Two Hands

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Heath’s first big international role, in a cool and very funny modern reworking of The Taming of the Shrew. Heath stars at bad boy Patrick Verona, who runs his corny seduction lines on Katarina Stratford (Julia Stiles) in the expectation of instant success, but she brushes him off in no uncertain terms until he can prove himself worthy. Heath’s performance of Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, racing up and down the stands of the sports stadium with a huge grin on his face, waving his legs in the air like a goofy giant stick insect as he successfully evades the security guards, is one of the funniest things I have seen in cinema. Just as good as it was in 1999. 

The Patriot (2000)
American Revolution saga where Heath got his next big break, cast as Mel Gibson’s son. Did very well at the box office and generally rated highly, but not even Heath looking gorgeous in period costume could prevent me from losing interest in the plot and falling sound asleep. The first of several movies in which Heath appears on horseback.

A Knight’s Tale (2001)
Heath plays William Thatcher aka Sir Ulrich von Lichenstein in an entertaining medieval  action movie-cum-love story with a bit of rock music thrown in. Heath smoulders in leading man mode, falls in love with the beautiful maiden, shows us his dance moves, and gets to jump on another horse.  His support actors also give brilliant comic performances. A lot of fun, and definitely improves on subsequent viewings.

Monster’s Ball (2001)
A confronting prison movie starring Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry, with Heath’s short but intense role as guard Sonny Grotowski earning rave reviews from other actors. Cited by Daniel Day Lewis when accepting his recent Screen Actor’s Guild award, which he dedicated to Heath’s memory.

The Four Feathers (2002)
More horseback action, with Heath playing British army officer turned pacifist Harry Faversham, the newest of several movie versions of the 1902 novel by A.E.W. Mason.  Got very mixed reviews, and still on my list of Heath movies to see.

Ned Kelly (2003)
One of many dramatisations of the life of the Irish-Australian outlaw, with Heath on horseback yet again. Heath prepared meticulously, reading and re-reading Ned Kelly’s famous Jerilderee Letter and getting his Irish accent right in order to better play Ned. Canned by a lot of critics and not a commercial success,  but certainly  better than the farcical 1970 Kelly movie starring Mick Jagger, which was dogged by huge amounts of public controversy as well as mishaps on set.   

The Order (2003); alternate title The Sin Eater
Heath plays Alex Bernier, a Catholic priest who has lost his faith, again directed by Brian Helgeland, of A Knight’s Tale. Not a success.


February 8, 2008 Posted by | DVD, Movies | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

100 Things We Loved About Heath

When I first learned of Heath Ledger’s death last week, it came as such a shock that it was as if the breath had been knocked out of me. How to make sense of the tragic loss of a young actor whose career was on such a meteoric rise? Do we blame the vicissitudes of his personal life, about which in truth we know nothing except the little he chose to tell us, together with any inferences we could draw from paparazzi shots and stories of dubious provenance in the tabloids? That he was an Australian who had made it to the top of the heap in Tinseltown whilst simultaneously not being sure he really wanted to be there makes his untimely death and the alleged cause of it all the more poignant.

Not only did Heath have star-quality charisma, he was a genuinely fine actor, who first came to mainstream attention in 1999 with 10 Things I Hate About You, co-starring Julia Stiles. Though it is often rather condescendingly described as a piece of teen fluff and media reports imply that Heath was slightly embarrassed by it, 10 Things is in fact a very witty modern reworking of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.  It was here that Heath first got to demonstrate his innate talents as romantic lead and comic actor for a wider audience, and he did an excellent job of it. Incidentally, 10 Things boasts a killer soundtrack, including appearances by Letters to Cleo and funky lead singer Kay Hanley, and the movie remains one of my favourites to this day.

In his next role of note, Heath was cast alongside Mel Gibson in The Patriot (2000), an American epic that earned praise from the blokes, but frankly failed to hold my interest, although Heath again lights up the screen merely by his presence. From this point onwards, by all accounts he could have cheerfully coasted through a lucrative career mapped out for him by the Hollywood machine. But that was not his way, and instead he began to carve out his own, no less financially rewarding career, turning down numerous cheesy and/or blockbuster roles in favour of increasingly challenging and controversial parts that stretched him as an artist.  Inevitably along the way, he landed in the occasional dud – although as we have seen, one person’s dud can be another’s highly rated favourite.  

However, the reason we will always remember Heath Ledger, and what ultimately transformed him into a serious A-lister, was in his going against conventional studio wisdom to accept the lead role in the unforgettable Brokeback Mountain (2005), based on Annie Proulx’s gut-wrenchingly stark masterpiece from her Close Range collection of Wyoming stories.

Brokeback Mountain was always destined for greatness, directed by the incomparable Ang Lee, with Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry’s magnificent screenplay of Proulx’s story as the basis. Together with stars Heath and Jake Gyllenhaal, Ang Lee wrought an exquisite alchemy from the story of ranch hands Ennis and Jack, hopelessly enmeshed in a doomed love affair, the victims of their deprived backgrounds, geography and redneck homophobia.

Heath immortalised the character of Ennis, bringing him to life in a way that not even Ennis’ creator envisaged was possible. After eight years of false starts and other trials and tribulations in first getting Brokeback Mountain published, and then to the screen, Annie Proulx has written movingly of the way the film affected her, stating that she was blown away by it.  The characters again became so alive in her mind that while out driving one day in the landscape inhabited by Jack and Ennis, she had a surreal moment in which she imagined they were actually about to materialise in front of her.

 In Heath’s own words, “The level of complexity with the character of Ennis were irresistible. I knew that in order to portray Ennis del Mar I would have to mature as an actor, mature as a person.” In the same interview he added that “the anxieties were [in] living up the beauty of the story. It was a perfect story with a perfect director attached to it and I didn’t want to be the one to screw it up” – an unbelievably self-depreciating statement in light of his performance, which is so visceral, so deep, that there really are no words to do it justice.

Annie Proulx has also written Blood on the Red Carpet, a brilliant rant about the 2006 Oscar ceremonies, as along with just about everyone else except the Academy, she recognised Brokeback Mountain as the standout for Best Picture (it was nominated in eight separate categories).  However, as she observed, the Hollywood movie industry is a conservative behemoth that plays it safe and seems to prefer mimicry to artistry, so Brokeback Mountain didn’t get Best Picture, and Heath missed out on his Oscar. The Brokeback team had to settle for just three (Best Director, Best Musical Score and Best Adapted Screenplay), which as Proulx tartly pointed out, placed it on a par with King Kong. It did however, win the Golden Lion at Venice, and Jake Gyllenhaal walked away with an award at the BAFTAs.

In the aftermath of the awards,  some journalists mused that the Academy might eventually see the error of its ways and award Heath a compensatory Oscar down the track, for which there has apparently been more than one precedent. Tragically, he hasn’t lived long enough to see that, so unless he earns a posthumous going for his portrayal of the Joker, he is destined to go down in movie history as one of the finest actors never to win an Oscar.

And so we are left only with celluloid memories of an enormously charismatic, intelligent, talented young star who could really act, something that more than a few big names in Hollywood are incapable of.  He was an actor with a strong presence, an incredibly expressive face and a gorgeously rich voice when he chose to employ them, and now he will never appear in Hamlet at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre as he once planned, nor in any other production.

Heath Ledger was both an archetypal Australian and an ambitious expat who followed the dream, heading to Hollywood to chase both success and love, although not necessarily in that order. He had a thing for beautiful blonde actresses, a chequered love life and shockingly bad taste in clothes, but we loved him anyway. Despite all his success and the accompanying razzamatazz, he seemed to remain genuinely attached to his home country, even when hounded from it by hostile and unrelenting media attention. He was a young actor with uncompromising views on his craft, who knew exactly what he believed in and what he wanted, and wasn’t afraid to express an unpopular opinion when he felt it was needed. May you rest in peace, Heath Ledger, we’re devastated that you have left us.

January 29, 2008 Posted by | Movies | | 3 Comments

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Mystery of a Hansom Cab

This is one that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, finally stumbling across it in a second-hand bookshop recently, although I’m pleased to note that our library service also has both the book and the audio book.  It is the original blockbuster Antipodean crime fiction, set in Melbourne, and is still in print more than 120 years later.

Ironically, author Fergus Hume (1859-1932) had been unable to find a publisher to start with, as in his own words, “everyone to whom I offered it refused to look at the manuscript on the ground that no Colonial could write anything worth reading”.  He ended up having to self-publish, and to his astonishment The Mystery of a Hansom Cab sold 5000 copies within its first three weeks, with a total of 20,000 copies in print by the end of the first year of publication (1886). The book also had massive sales in Britain, but  Hume had unwisely already sold his copyright for the meager sum of £50.  Hume only stayed in Australia for three short years, returning to England in 1888 and going on to a highly successful writing career.

I read the whole book in one sitting, very much enjoying Hume’s writing style and the dialogue of some of his racier characters. The story is liberally sprinkled with red herrings and is a real page-turner, and its evocation of social life in the colony in the late 1800s is quite fascinating.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Australiana, Fiction | , , | Leave a comment

Provence Cookery School

Provence Cookery SchoolProvence Cookery School: Shop, cook and eat like a local
by Gui Gedda & Marie-Pierre Moine

A version of this review was published previously on my old blog, but this cookbook is so gorgeous that I’m going to review it again. I’ve already borrowed it from the library twice, and each time I can hardly bear to take it back again.

This is genuine Provençal cookery by a master of the genre, presented as it would be during a week in a French cookery school.  It starts off simply with authentic Provençal ingredients, methods and easy recipes, and progresses gradually to more complex dishes.

What I love about Provençal cookery is its uncomplicated approach. Thank the culinary gods, there is nothing remotely resembling molecular gastronomy or any other avant-garde conceits in Monsieur Gedda’s kitchen. Nor any fussing about with sauces that take eight hours and use every pot in your kitchen, just lovely, traditional fare relying on fresh, top-quality ingredients and simplicity of presentation. 

The recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs, and the Provençal classics are all in there  – soupe au pistou, fish cookery, herb and wine infusions for pot roasts, Provençal breads, pissaladière (Provençal pizza) Socca (the street food of Nice), vegetable tarts, pine nut and lavender biscuits, gorgeous fruit gâteaux, French goat cheeses. Definitely one to swoon over, and even better, every one of the recipes is achievable.

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Cookbooks, Non fiction | Leave a comment

The Bourne Ultimatum (DVD)

bourne1.jpgWhile we’re on the subject of the CIA and the dark arts, I may as well review this one. It was released in cinemas mid last year and is now out on DVD. The Bourne Ultimatum is the third in the series of movies, based on the Jason Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum.

This is the action movie to end all action movies, filmed at a simply frenetic pace, and with over 170 stunt performers listed in the credits. Despite the Hollywood blockbuster mega-budget and cast of thousands, the production team has done a brilliant job in choosing locations and shooting in a way that manages to preserve the raw, chaotic tone of the earlier Bourne movies.

The Bourne Ultimatum has more of everything – more pace, more action, more agents and assassins, more high-tech surveillance techniques, more spectacular car pile-ups, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, an even more gritty performance by Matt Damon as renegade CIA operative Jason Bourne.

Damon’s Bourne is the quintessential action hero, but with far more complexity to his character than the usual cardboard-cutout action men. He is just as smart, driven, resourceful, ruthless and more importantly, bulletproof as in the earlier movies, but this time with extra edge. Damon as Bourne moves through the movie like a human steamroller, fitting in perfectly with John Powell’s dramatic musical score and the fast-paced camera action.

There are excellent performances by the other actors, with Julia Stiles in a much more prominent role as agent Nicky Parsons, and Joan Allen, who is again brilliant as Pamela Landy. Paddy Considine convincingly plays Guardian journalist David Ross, David Strathairn is perfect as ruthless CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen, Edgar Ramirez and Joey Ansah are completely believable as killing machines Paz and Desh, and veteran British actor Albert Finney does a star turn as the sinister Albert Hirsch.

The Bourne Ultimatum is filmed on the streets of Berlin, New York, London, Madrid, Paris and Tangiers, and consciously plays homage to old thrillers such as All the President’s Men and The French Connection. British director Paul Greengrass is once again at the helm, and his intelligent and considered director’s commentary should not be missed.

Techno artist Moby’s brilliant Bourne theme song Extreme Ways has been specially remixed, and is once again a fitting finale to an extremely satisfying action movie, one that will set the standard for many years to come.

Bourne Ultimatum website
Robert Ludlum official website
Moby official website
Moby’s myspace page

January 3, 2008 Posted by | DVD, Fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA

Legacy of Ashes This book, by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Tim Weiner is a devastating critique of six decades of the CIA’s operations, from the agency’s beginnings in the 1940s as a follow-on from the wartime Office of Strategic Services, through the eras of the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam, right to the present era.

Legacy of Ashes is a relentless catalogue of decades of crippling intelligence failures due to the infiltration of virtually every unit from its inception, of inter-departmental turf wars, of an agency addicted to covert action at the expense of intelligence gathering, whose main agenda seems to have been the buying or toppling of foreign governments (Italy, Japan, Egypt, Iran, the Congo, Guatemala, Vietnam, Chile, who knows how many others).  

 It is a story of rampant alcoholism and ruthless personal ambition amongst agents, of execrable planning and hideous bungles costing thousands of lives, including hundreds of the CIA’s own agents. It is the story of out-of-control section heads and gung-ho cowboys operating virtually as laws unto themselves, answerable to no-one, dreaming up insane schemes like throwing live bats out of airplanes with incendiary devices strapped to their backs, to rain down on Tokyo (this one didn’t work).

This priceless little gem appears on pages 4 and 5, courtesy of David Bruce, former CIA operative and later U.S. ambassador, whose unenviable task it was to test the bats-as-bombs hypothesis. It tends to set the tone for the whole, sorry saga, which could almost be a Keystone Cops comedy if the effects on the history of so many other nations had not been so devastating and long-lasting.

All in all, Legacy of Ashes is an utterly gripping narrative, one that I have been quite unable to put down – a 700-page catalogue of “swashbuckling of the worst kind”, to quote the words of one former agent.  The book’s great strength is that everything is on the record, sourced from first-hand reporting and primary documents, with numerous direct quotes from former operatives. There is an addendum of over 150 pages of notes documenting the author’s sources.

Frightening stuff.

December 27, 2007 Posted by | Non fiction | , , | 1 Comment

Urban Babies Wear Black

Urban Babies Wear Black is a cute little book by Michelle Sinclair Colman, and my favourite so far from her series of board books, ostensibly for babies, but probably really for the adults who read them aloud. The other titles in the series are:
Urban Babies Wear Black

Eco Babies Wear Green
The New Baby’s Baby Journal
Winter Babies Wear Layers
Country Babies Wear Plaid
Beach Babies Wear Shades

Our library also has the last two titles in this list.  “Eco Babies” is due to be published in early 2008.

December 19, 2007 Posted by | Fiction, Junior | , | Leave a comment